Simi Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Ritika Gupta, Anshula Mehta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been different across the vulnerable groups based on gender, class, caste and other socio-economic backgrounds were the most hit by the pandemic at various stages, whether it is accessibility to medical treatment or financial support.
The second wave witnessed human suffering at a level where we can never forget the traumatized faces of people due to the inaccessibility and unavailability of essential medical services such as hospitals beds and oxygen. The probability of the third wave has also been one of the major upcoming challenges. To address this issue and to pave the way for solutions, Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi on July 27th, 2021 organized a #WebPolicyTalk under The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on the topic Pathways towards Combating the Third Wave: Impact and Policy Learnings from the Second Wave through a Gender Lens.
The talk commenced with Prof Vibuti Patel, Eminent Economist, and Feminist, Former Professor, TISS, Mumbai giving the backdrop of the second wave, where the people were shattered and scared by a large number of deaths, the volunteers were stigmatized by the sheer mental health issues. She also addressed the issues which would be the primary reasons in the third wave, the lack of medical infrastructure, awareness among people, and low rates of vaccinations. Further, she highlighted the lack of health investment by the government.
Lessons Learned from Ground Zero
Dr. Ravi Vaswani, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, and Clinical COVID Officer, Yenepoya Medical College, Yenepoya (Deemed to be University), Mangalore, Karnataka has been working for the past 1.5 years in the Covid-19 hospitals. He brought his experiences as a change-maker and the lessons he learned to the center stage.
Firstly, he suggested to not panic. The conflict got worse because of the panic among the individuals, doctors to governments. Secondly, switch off your social media, the main source for misinformation and panic. Thirdly, Covid appropriate behavior is the new norm. We should accept that we are required to wear masks, sanitize our hands regularly and maintain social distancing. Fourthly, respect for the frontline workers, where the people working continuously for the betterment of the people.
The lesson for doctors is to not rush to treat patients, be calm, and properly research the use of medication before application. The lesson for the Central and the state governments will be to promote social health and medical insurances, upgrading and enhancing medical infrastructure at every level possible, increase the number of medical staff in hospitals, and pay more salaries to them. All these developments should be done on an equitable public-private partnership.
Analyzing the Position of Women during Pandemic
Jayashree Velankar, Director, Jagori, New Delhi, highlighted not only the carelessness on the government’s end, despite being warned about the second wave before, but also the hesitance and inaccuracy of government data. She recommended the policies that would be formulated should be based on the gender- relevant data. The domestic violence and other problems faced by the women and children, as being the secondary citizens of the society, has deteriorated the problem of anemia and other easily transmitted diseases among them. The non-transmittable diseases among women are prevalent, but still, the hospitalities or treatment rates were substantially low as compared to men. This condition got worse during the pandemic because of the lack of the importance of their health.
The lack of public infrastructure and vaccinations is also a pertinent issue . The vaccine policy and research are constructed by the interest and profits of the capitalists. The burden of the household has gone unnoticed, reinforcing gender norms. A universal public distribution system and maternity benefits without any criteria should be a must. The biggest policy learning would be the disparity among people, which leads to fatalism accompanied by irrational policymaking. The next step should be to make our policies rationally and base them on properly evaluated data.
Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan, founder, Founder, The Prajnya Trust, Chennai conveyed her observations in the area of Tamil Nadu. The lack of support or sensitization has been a deep dive issue. The society that objected to relationships like intern-caste or LGBTIQ marriages and relationships also took a stall. Women across sectors were more affected compared to men as the excess workload took a toll on their work performance, and that is never taken into account. During lockdowns, the work division among the genders, or cases of domestic violence and non-consensual sex were the prime issues.
The gender divide between public and private became more intense. Women’s representation in the political process is negligible. The most important lesson is of caution, many who have the luxury to stay at home. Some fundamental barriers in the development of the person would become a more significant issue than ever were.
Not the “New Normal” for Many
Prof. Kiran Desai, Professor, Centre for Social Studies, Surat elucidated upon the plight faced by the migrant labor workers during this pandemic. The terrible standards of living and heinous working conditions are normal for them. The pandemic just worsened their state of misery. Most were not paid for the work they did before the pandemic. Living in the city was not an option as they had exhausted their savings. The trains or the buses arranged by the government were heavily mismanaged and lacked basic needs, with many walking their way to homes.
During the second wave, many migrant workers refused to go home, citing lack of facilities. The rural employment programs are in the work but are extremely low funded. Underpaid work and inaccessibility to the covid vaccine are prime concerns that are still not being dealt with. Irregular employment has been a constant issue. Many new government policies for migrant workers are not working as they lack political will.
The Second Wave in Mumbai
Brinelle D’Souza, Assistant Professor, Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai; Co-convenor, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Mumbai helped us understand the health issues concentrating in the financial capital of Mumbai Even though the number of cases are steadily increasing, the investment in medical infrastructure is a problem. The pandemic took a toll on the people living in slums, as they became a hub for the spread of virus and the challenges faced by the authorities and individuals during the second wave. The vaccine, which could be our only hope in stopping 3rd wave, are in shortage and people are heavily deprived.
She also enlighted on how the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan made an effective change in Mumbai during the second wave. Their commitment and dedication helped thousands. She also talked about their contribution, in collaboration with civil societies and the government to reduce the effect of the second wave. Further, she briefly explained how we could reduce the gender divide, which is been created by the pandemic.
Women in the Informal sector
Dr. Tauseef Fatima. Assistant Professor, Centre for Women’s Studies, Aligarh Muslim University has conducted extensive research on women’s labor in various cities of Uttar Pradesh. Most of the women worked in the textile industry, lock industry, or electroplating. These women faced the common issue of lack of orders and worsening conditions. Most of the women who worked in the informal sector have changed their mode of survival. The women faced a lack of work during the lockdowns. In the first wave the government support was helpful, but during the second wave these supports were missing.
Impact of the Second Wave in North-East India
Prof Alpana Borgohain, Professor, Dept. of Women’s Studies, Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam gave a background of the geography and demographics of the northeast. Then, she talked about the spread of the virus in the state and the public health system being a major disappointment in the second wave. She brought into focus issues like mental health, domestic violence, etc. The health care system was not fair to women, not only it was dominated by the men but also the income and benefits were less as compared to the men.
In these times, staying in homes is suggested but not everyone can do so. Women at home face mental health issues and extreme work burdens. She concentrated upon the division of household work among the both and the policy requirements. Organ trafficking is also a mode opted by the locals to generate income, in which the women are likely to do so. Apart from the policy changes, she suggested that the boost in the vaccination process could be a possible solution.
The discussion was concluded with a formal vote of thanks.
Acknowledgment: Ayush Aggarwal is a Research Intern at IMPRI